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Goal shy - Uncertainty clouds JFF's new franchise system

Published:Sunday | April 12, 2015 | 12:00 AMGordon Williams
Carvel Stewart
JFF General Secretary Raymond Grant.
JFF President Captain Horace Burrell

An ambitious plan to ramp up the quality of Jamaica's football, hinged on a top league featuring professional franchises, is in danger of missing its announced kick-off goal.

While the game's administrators claim the path to launch the franchise system is still being paved, prospective stakeholders argue they've largely been left in a rut of uncertainty.

Last May, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) declared a franchise system would be implemented to help improve the standard of play locally, particularly at the highest club level. The plan called for between 10 and 12 franchises - purchased by individuals or corporate entities - across the island. Lower leagues would accommodate clubs which couldn't or didn't buy in.

The JFF aimed to score the franchise system in time for the 2015-2016 season, however, representatives of several clubs in Jamaica's current premier league claim they've been left mostly in the dark about the total process and doubt that target can be met.

"There's no answer to a lot of things," Carvel Stewart, chairman of Harbour View Football Club, explained on March 29. "We are ignorant as to what the franchise proposal is."

Consensus among local administrators of football urgently needs a quality boost. They also acknowledged JFF representatives have crisscrossed Jamaica, explaining aspects of the franchise proposal. Yet the overall package, they argue, remains muddied, casting doubt over the franchise system's launch.

"At this point I do not see how it can come on stream this year as no preparations are being made by clubs," a premier league club manager who did not want to be identified, citing possible backlash from the JFF, said late March.

"No association in Jamaica has received any document outlining what's next for the franchise system," a premier league club president who also requested identity protection added this month.

Stewart said he's learned that each franchise may cost US$100,000, plus a US$20,000 annual fee. He said a franchise will require J$103 million to run annually, while it is expected to earn J$110 million, a J$7 million profit. Fans may be expected to pay up to J$1,000 to attend each game, Stewart added. Similar figures were confirmed by other local club reps.

At the time of the interview, Stewart said the JFF had not yet met with the Premier League Clubs Association (PCLA), which represents clubs in the Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL), to discuss the franchise system. No franchise owner has been publicly identified. Meanwhile, clubs continue to play in the RSPL unsure if they'll be part of the new system.

"People are fighting hard to just stay in the league. To hear they might not stay in the league is hard to imagine," said Stewart, who is also PLCA vice-chairman.

Repeated efforts to contact JFF franchise committee chairman Gary Sinclair, to gauge the progress of the plan, have proven unsuccessful in recent months. Telephone messages, the most recent left on March 30, have not been responded to, however, JFF General Secretary Raymond Grant assured that the plan is alive.

"The franchise committee is still meeting," Grant said on April 8. "It's still taking information from other best practices and putting together a comprehensive document. It's an ongoing process."

Last September, JFF President Captain Horace Burrell appeared confident the franchise system would succeed.

"I'm sure we will come up with the right formula and we'll see tremendous improvement in our football," media reports quoted Burrell at a function where Red Stripe announced a new premier league sponsorship deal.

The structures of several leagues worldwide have been reviewed by the franchise committee. One resembling North America's Major League Soccer is close to the committee's preferred model, sources said. Under the proposed plan, the Kingston and St. Andrew area could end up with several franchises. The others would be spread among a combination of Jamaica's remaining parishes.

Club representatives are worried that a franchise system not executed properly could do local football more damage than good. Their concerns include possible erosion of long cultivated fan base, money and proper infrastructure. Some argue that an absence of "sporting merit" under the new system, which ensures franchises earn league spots via promotion-demotion, would also be harmful eventually.

More immediately worrying, according to some club reps, is lack of confidence in the current process of putting together the franchise system. Burrell has dismissed detractors, but some remain adamant that it is off track.

"The franchise system is not well thought out," a club president said. "Right now, nobody seems to know where it's going."